Stress Busters: Chemical Coping – Drink, Downers, and Dope
People in Asian and Middle Eastern countries have used marijuana (Cannabis sativa) as an intoxicant for thousands of years. With the birth of Islam, cannabis was embraced as the preferred psychoactive substance, replacing the Judeo-Christian favorite, alcohol. Cannabis was later used in Western medicine for at least two millennia, until the early 1900s, when the use of pharmaceuticals largely replaced herbal medicines. It was finally declared illegal for medical use in the 1930s but continued to be used in subcultures, particularly those of artists and musicians.
Then, during the 1960s and 1970s, cannabis use became integrated with the growing counter-culture movement, turning up in communes, colleges, and wherever young people gathered. Today, cannabis is consumed by 11.2 million Americans over age eleven including baby-boomers who never stopped using it making it the most widely used of all illegal drugs.
How does it work? The immediate effects of smoking cannabis are mild euphoria and, often, drowsiness. Research shows that brain receptors respond to cannabis by releasing the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. Cannabis's effects on judgment, coordination, and short-term memory make it inadvisable to drive, to operate heavy machinery, or to try to learn anything new while under its influence. This is due to the high concentration of cannabis receptors in both the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory, and the cerebellum, the part of the brain that governs motor coordination. Moreover, these effects may actually last longer than those of alcohol.
Up in Smoke: Side Effects
Research on the effects of driving under the influence of cannabis concludes that cannabis-induced impairment persists from four to eight hours long after the subjective effects have worn off. Ninety-four percent of subjects fail roadside sobriety tests 90 minutes after smoking, while 60 percent fail after 150 minutes. Just as with those from alcohol and tranquilizers, the effects from cannabis use last longer than is easily recognized, resulting in needless accidents.
Researchers have found that daily cannabis users, after several days of abstinence, continue to show subtle but measurable impairment in their mental processing. But it's not clear whether this after-the-fact impairment results from changes in the brain or from the slow, continuous release of marijuana constituents that have been stored in the brain and fatty tissues.
A recent study by Dr. Harrison Pope and colleagues, published in the American Medical Association's Archives of General Psychiatry, provided some interesting findings regarding the long-term cognitive effects of cannabis use. The researchers evaluated three groups: past heavy users, who had smoked no more than twelve times in the prior three months; heavy users, who had not stopped; and light users, who had smoked no more than fifty times in their lifetime). After a 28-day abstinence period, the participants were given a neuropsychological test for memory, attention, and verbal ability on Days 0, 1, 7, and 28. Despite impairment detected in the earlier testing sessions, by Day 28, all three groups scored similarly on the test. The conclusion was that the cognitive impairment caused by cannabis was acute only and was reversible once the intake was stopped.
Here's the experience of Gene, a forty-five-year-old, married physical therapist:
I'd only smoke a hit or two every other day, but I had been doing this for years. I finally stopped smoking marijuana completely eight months ago, and I feel a lot better. My workouts have improved, and my overall energy level is up. When I smoked, I would feel relaxed at first, but after an hour or so, my mood would dip. I'd get cranky and want another hit. The next one wouldn't do it, though, so I gave up trying. The moodiness was probably due to a low blood-sugar reaction you know, "the munchies." Then, I'd eat, so I put on too much weight.
I finally decided I'd had enough of it all, and just quit. I became really irritable. Not only was I craving a smoke, but I had to handle all kinds of emotional issues that were coming up, things I hadn't ever dealt with. Fortunately, I had some aromatherapy and herbal products that really helped cut the cravings and lift my mood. Eventually, after about six to eight weeks, my moods evened out. Now, if I find myself wanting a joint to relax, I take a whiff of my aromatherapy oil or a dose of kava. Overall, I'm glad to be over the whole thing. Life feels more real to me now. My wife likes me better now, too. She says I'm more emotionally available, more stable, and nicer to be with!
In our own observations, young people who smoke their way through high school (or even earlier) and continue through young adulthood are more likely to have problems. They seem less able to cope with the challenges of everyday life or to be able to plan appropriately for their futures. Their emotional development seems blunted: the marijuana fog may have prevented them from fully experiencing a complete range of emotions and relationships. Stoned on the hero's journey, they miss the passages necessary for growing up and accepting their place in the adult world.
Pitfalls of Pot
Regular usage will cause:
- Impaired coordination, judgment, and short-term memory, which persists for four to eight hours. May result in accidents.
- Mood swings and irritability due to low blood-sugar reaction.
- Blunted emotional development in young people who are chronic users, leading to problems in coping with everyday challenges and planning for the future.
- Throat and lung irritation, as with tobacco.
More on: Alternative Health Care
From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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